This is a special year! It’s not very often that Ash Wednesday and Valentines’ Day fall in the same month, much less the same week! Too bad for all of you who gave up chocolate for Lent! Seriously, there seems to be a dichotomy between the two. Ash Wednesday is all about remembering our frail humanity, while Valentine’s Day celebrates romance and love. As I reflect on the diverse nature of these two days, one very somber, the other very merry, perhaps the common theme that ties them together is love.
The Apostle Paul writes, in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ash Wednesday points us to the greatest love that mankind could ever experience as we rehearse again the truth that God willingly sacrificed His beloved Son, and Jesus willingly gave up His life to show us the depth of His love. At my last parish we would exercise the imposition of ashes early in the service, but following communion I stationed elders to wipe the ashen crosses off as people left the communion rail with these words: “Christ has cleansed you; you are free.” It was to be a beautiful and powerful testimony of the power of the Sacrament of the Altar. “If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Far from penitential somberness, maybe Ash Wednesday should also be a celebration of God’s love!
There are many tales about the origin of Valentine’s Day, but suffice it to say that Valentine was purportedly a priest, and His love for God and for God’s people made an impact that, while far from what perhaps was originally intended, is still for us an opportunity to witness to our faith in Jesus. In fact, I believe Valentine’s Day could be a great time to tell of the real love that God has lavishly poured on us. John, the beloved Apostle, wrote in his first epistle words that may have influenced St. Valentine. He wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
I heard a scathing review of Christianity not too long ago. The author stated that Christians speak a lot about love, but they aren’t so good about practicing it. Or as someone has stated, “Your words say you love me, but your actions say otherwise.” I don’t know about you, but when it hits that close to home it kind of stings! Jesus said to His disciples, right before He would be crucified, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” No amount of flowers and candy can make up for a perceived lack of love! And likewise, the non-believing world around us can sense when there is a lack of authenticity in love. Maybe Burt Bacharach had it write, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s much too little of.”
Speaking of old songs, I know I’m aging myself, but I remember back around 1978 when John Paul Young sang the song, “Love is in the Air.” For some of you reading this, you will no doubt start humming it to yourself—but beware, because you won’t be able to get the tune out of your head! Others of you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. It was an instant disco hit.
“Love is in the air everywhere I look around; Love is in the air every sight and every sound; And I don’t know if I’m being foolish; Don’t know if I’m being wise; But it’s something that I must believe in; And it’s there when I look in your eyes.” Of course, the song goes on (and on and on) from there… Okay, this may not be a “church” song, but what if the eyes we’re looking into are the eyes of Jesus? His eyes are filled with His love for us, and for the world around us. That’s why He’s called us to engage in the Master’s business, so that His love becomes evident, not only by our words, but by our actions! Then maybe His love will become more evident in our eyes, too!
All around us are symbols of God’s love for us. We talk about it in the explanation to the First Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism. God provides us with so many blessings each day, yet often we choose to focus on what we believe He has failed to provide. All around us are opportunities for us to share God’s love. The good people at Lutheran Church of Providence in Deltona, FL have begun carrying little wooden crosses in their pockets, and as they eat in restaurants or talk to clerks at the store they ask a few simple questions, and if they sense that people are going through a struggle, they hand them the cross and share how the cross has brought them peace and hope. A very simple way for us to share God’s love. The opportunities are all around us. His love is in the air—so breathe it in and share it with the world! Don’t just let it be about what we say we believe, but let the world see His love living in us. That’s how people are connected to Jesus!
I pray that we would celebrate Ash Wednesday with joy, focused on God’s love. As we begin our Lenten journey once again to the foot of the Cross, there we see God’s love manifested in such a powerful, transformative way. The world has taken over the celebration of St. Valentine, but we can still redeem it by first remembering God’s love for us in Jesus, and then sharing that love in small ways that reflect His love living in us. His love is all around us. May God make each of us, during this season of Lent, reflections of His love.
In His awesome, life-changing love,
Rev. Gregory S. Walton, President